Taking product images can be as simple or complex as you need. Take a quick snap with your outdated iPhone 6 or spend big bucks on that Canon EOS 6D Mark II you’ve been eyeing. Most of us tend to be somewhere in the middle, so let’s take a look at some tips to help you feel more confident in your efforts.
Staging Your Product Image
Ecommerce platforms like Shopify, Amazon, and Walmart typically require or highly recommend a plain, white backdrop for product images. Choosing a white background may even seem like a no-brainer considering it provides a clear and undistracted impression for potential customers. A white or any solid color background is a very safe choice for the novice photographer but may not be as simple without the proper equipment.
Environmental photos would likely be easier from a technical standpoint but may not be as simple to stage. Staging does come with certain guidelines that all beginners should follow. You can probably guess some of these guidelines on your own, such as lighting, contrast, rule of thirds, and eliminating busy backgrounds.
Lighting – Add focused lights just outside of your shot. Use natural lighting when possible. Don’t be afraid to test brightness and location. Take the same photo with different lighting techniques and choose the best option.
Color Contrast – Time to dust off that color wheel from art class. Are there items near the product or in the background that ruin the shot with colors that clash with the product?
Rule of Thirds – The rule of thirds is an extremely popular practice of envisioning a grid with 9 equal parts over a scene you wish to shoot. Basically, picture a tic-tac-to grid on top of a photo. By placing elements of your product on the intersecting lines, that item will achieve more attention and focus. This will help center products or place them within a third of the image so as to not dominate the photo for attention when the background is equally important.
Backgrounds – Is your background too busy? There’s no strict rule to determine if there are too many objects, colors, or even people near or behind your product. However, “less is more” is a loose guideline to get behind. Staging a product can include contextual background items to help the customer envision what you wish to sell in their own lives. That is a great option, and if that is the case, be sure to limit color choices. There’s a reason why most real estate agents stage homes with greys that don’t overpower the viewer. That being said, a single bright color may be enough to attract attention when a user scrolls down that long, long feed of posts.
A seemingly infinite number of choices for tools await the beginning photographer. We won’t necessarily claim they are all a necessity for some social media photos or dive deep into each option, but we do recommend considering the following aids.
Backdrop / Shooting Table / Light Tent – Unless you are shooting a product with a staged setting or store display, chances are high that you’ll need one or more of these items. Each one varies greatly in price. Photo backdrops can be found cheaply or expensive on Amazon with the necessary frame. Provided you have enough space, a backdrop is an ideal solution for nearly any item, especially those on the larger side. For smaller products, most small light tents will do the trick, and they are less cumbersome to deal with. Many include their own built-in lights but keep in mind that they tend to be less than ideal. That leaves the shooting table, which is basically a combination of the two. Take top-down photos while fully exposing the focus to natural and artificial lighting.
Tripod – Low lighting requires a camera to take extra time capturing an image. Test this by using your phone to take a quick shot of your hand with the lights on and again with the lights off. If you pay close attention, you’ll notice a slight delay. If you were to move the camera at all during this brief delay, the photo will appear blurry. The same problem occurs with ideal lighting, but it is naturally less noticeable. Therefore, tripods are almost always recommended for photography. Modern cameras are getting extraordinarily good at stabilization, but a $20 tripod is still a worthy expenditure, especially for video shots.
Camera – There once was a time when a professional SLR or DSLR was absolutely necessary, but technological improvements over the past couple of decades have allowed our phones to do the impossible…take a great photo. For most social media pages, any modern phone made in the last few years will likely do the trick. However, be sure that the settings are set to a high resolution, so that you may easily edit and crop photos when necessary.
Take more photos than you need…
Your phone may have a feature called “burst shot,” “continuous shooting mode,” or “rapid-fire” but rest assured they all mean the same thing. This feature allows the camera’s shutter to continue firing off frames for an extended period of time and/or as long as you hold the button down. This is a great option, especially if people or animals will be in your shot. We blink, smile, laugh, and pick our noses. Taking multiple shots will capture a full smile instead of an awkward one. Please believe that you’ll greatly appreciate options when you are about to edit or make a post.
Retouch & Optimize Photos
Adobe Photoshop has become synonymous for image editing, almost like Q-Tips ended up replacing the generic name of the cotton swab. However, the less famous, Adobe Lightroom may be better for your photos. That being said, no one wants to rack up a bill. If you don’t know how to use Adobe programs, you may actually be happier and more comfortable with a free program like Windows Photos or Google Photos. Simply click an image, select editing options, and hit “Auto.” Unless you are a working professional, the software’s automatic settings will likely do a better job.
Why not search for free or paid stock images? This may be a viable option for many situations. That being said, stock photos often seem too impersonal for social media. Think about how often you ignore ads. You are actually getting pretty good at it! Our eyes begin to distinguish the differences between stock images and something a bit more casual and friendly. This is purely anecdotal, but self-taken photos almost always received more post engagement than any stock image I have ever used. Experiences may vary, so it may be a good idea to try both. See what works for you and your branding. Analytics is your friend.
Landscape vs Portrait Photos
This is a massive problem on the internet that the public generally accepts. Using a landscape or horizontally oriented photo for Instagram Stories, a platform made for portrait mode can be mildly infuriating to the viewer. It’s likely that you have even seen portrait or vertical video on Youtube. This practice usually occurs due to a lack of knowledge or preparation. Be prepared. Before you take a shot, always remind yourself, “Is this the correct orientation for the platform I wish to use?” If you aren’t sure, there’s a simple answer: Google it! Many sites even offer the exact dimensions recommended for each platform.
Copy the Pros
All major social media platforms have been around for years if not decades. Look for your competition on social media. The larger the company, the better. If you manage an herbal tea shop, don’t be afraid to check Adagio Tea’s social media pages. Do you work at a local pet shop? Check PetSmart’s Facebook pages. With some research and patience, you’ll basically be getting a crash course on how to stage and promote your products and services.
Hire a Professional
If this all seems like too much work, or you are struggling to capture the beautiful ideas in your mind, it’s always alright to ask for some assistance. Our in-house photographers have placed fantastic work for many headshots, weddings, and commercial events & products. It would be a pleasure to help bring your ideas to light.